The Google Parasites

Opinion: Many small and midsize e-tailers are finding it hard to rely on Google's goodwill in order to survive.

I have to confess a certain fondness for Google, an admiration that has grown out of frequent innovation and creativity. And its frequent luck in the form of success.

Then again, my livelihood doesnt overwhelmingly depend on the whims of Google, so the idiosyncrasies of its search and other services is professionally interesting and not much more.

But to a growing legion of small and midsize e-commerce players today, Googles evolving rules and exact methodologies can devastate—or make wildly successful—and these are matters where those small players have virtually no say.

Despite efforts by Yahoo and others in recent months, no one has come close to touching Googles overwhelming marketshare for Web search. In the olden days, this was called "cornering the market" and it was a good thing, to be congratulated in the nearest wood-paneled corporate watering hole.

But there are few parallels to Googles success in the history of American commerce. In its heyday, Detroits big three auto makers were king makers for tons of auto supply and car component firms, but their clout only impacted one vertical—automotive—and it was split among three manufacturers.

In Googles case, succcess is consolidated with one company and yet impacts any e-commerce anywhere around the globe, selling absolutely anything, from car doors to cream cheese to karate lessons.

If the latest Google rules smile on you, youll have a very different day than if it changed their processes and you didn’t discover it until an hour after your competition did.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about Google desktop arriving on Linux.

Should it be treated as a monopoly? Hardly, as other companies are quite free to do their own search services. Yet there are some 727,000 retailers in this country. (No, I didnt just make up that figure. It came from the U.S. Census Bureau. It made up that figure.) Is Google really duty-bound to accommodate the business needs of everyone?

From Googles perspective, what right do these e-tailers have to complain? Have they morphed from Web sites to parasites?

Erik Qualman, who runs marketing for a site called TravelZoo, isn’t quite going that far, but he is feeling the pressure of having his company stunningly dependent on Googles whims.

The problem is that TravelZoo has lots of short-duration special programs and he cant get the Google ads and links to recognize them in time for them to be relevant.

Ive noted in this column before the maddening inability of Google search to understand various elements of time, including "show me the items with the most recent dates" and "show me the items you most recently found."

There are retail tech searches that I run routinely. One will often generate about 40,000 responses. When it generates, for example, 40,586 responses four days in a row and it then delivers 54,586 responses on the fifth day, I am assuming that Google has found 14,000 responses it didnt know about before, including some pages that might be five years old. (OK, it could be more than 14,000 because some of the older responses might have been deleted, but lets try and keep this semisimple.) Theres no way to say, "Just show me any responses your system discovered in the last 24 hours or 36 hours."

But search is just a useful tool to me and one of many tools at that. What if all of our revenue was dependent on Googles latest codings?

Yep, its a cold and hard e-commerce world out there today. Still have doubts? Just Google it and find out.

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at

To read earlier retail technology opinion columns from Evan Schuman, please click here.

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